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College basketball

Teams must go to great pains to win

By Wire services
Published March 30, 2004

ATLANTA - Saddled with a bum ankle, B.J. Elder limped during warmups, limped through 12 scoreless minutes, then limped back on the court to celebrate Georgia Tech's first trip to the Final Four in 14 years.

In Phoenix, Connecticut All-America center Emeka Okafor had only two points in the region final because of an elbow stinger. And Duke held off upstart Xavier in Atlanta with point guard Chris Duhon clearly hobbled by sore ribs.

Still, all three teams survived over the weekend and moved on, hoping the wear and tear of a long season will not keep them from winning a national championship.

Only Oklahoma State, the fourth team to advance, is completely healthy, but the others have nearly a week of rest before the Final Four.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski knows he needs Duhon at his best.

"We can't win at this level without him right now," Krzyzewski said Monday. "I thought he's getting a little more confidence. You can tell that he's missed his practice time."

Okafor is the same situation. Earlier this season, he was plagued by a stress fracture in his back, an injury that forced him to miss the first two games of the Big East tournament.

Now, he has another ailment. Alabama's Jermareo Davidson fouled Okafor hard during the first half of the final of the Phoenix Region. Because the Huskies were in firm control, Okafor sat out the final 161/2 minutes.

He skipped a light practice Monday to have an MRI on his neck and right shoulder, and the results were normal, according to UConn spokesman Kyle Muncy. Okafor is expected to resume practicing today and should be ready for Saturday's semifinal against Duke.

The same goes for Elder. He started Sunday against Kansas but missed his only two shots.

"I wasn't near 100 percent," he said. "I had to go out there and give it a go for the team. I wasn't able to make the plays that I usually make. I just tried to be there for the guys."

Duhon was the only one of the three injured stars who played his normal allotment of minutes in the regions. He wore a protective wrap under his jersey, about the only consideration to his sore ribs.

He was injured when he fell into a stanchion holding a TV camera during the ACC tournament championship game.

"It's tough to play with that wrap," he said. "It kind of limits your movement a little bit. Chasing guys going over screens, you're constantly getting hit each possession on the defensive end. It's a tough job, but I'll do it any time."

His scoring was down in victories over Illinois and Xavier - he averaged only five points, nearly five below his average - but his defense was as sharp as ever. He held the Illini's top scorer, Deron Williams, to seven points on 3-of-13 shooting, then alternated on Lionel Chalmers and Romain Sato of Xavier.

Neither had an easy time: Chalmers finished 6 of 16, and Sato made two of 10 shots.

"He's been a lockdown guy all season, and he's made every guy he's ever guarded work for his points," said Duke's leading scorer, J.J. Redick. "It just shows how courageous he is and how important it is to him for us to win.

"He's putting everything on the line for us, and we've got to do the same for him."

Oklahoma State hasn't had a starter miss any time all season with injures, and only reserve Terrence Crawford (sore knee) has been affected at all.

That's a good thing, too. The Cowboys aren't very deep on the bench - four of their five starters average about 30 minutes - and they hardly could afford to lose someone.

Of the four teams in San Antonio, Texas, Georgia Tech is by far the deepest. The Yellow Jackets got solid production from their reserves in three close games in the tournament, and that continued in the overtime victory over the Jayhawks on Sunday.

Clarence Moore had 14 points, six rebounds and five steals. Will Bynum scored eight points, including a go-ahead 3 late in the extra period, and Isma'il Muhammad finished with eight points and nine rebounds.

KANSAS' POTENTIAL: If Wayne Simien sticks with his decision to remain at Kansas, the Jayhawks have a good chance of making it to the Final Four next season.

All but one player who saw significant time this season will be back from the team that fell just points short of a third straight trip to the Final Four.

Kansas, which fell 79-71 in overtime to Georgia Tech on Sunday, should experience very little dropoff.

J.R. Giddens, whose 25-foot 3-pointer tied Georgia Tech with 16.2 seconds left in regulation, will be a sophomore, as will 6-foot-11 David Padgett.

Point guard Aaron Miles, who is approaching the school's assist record, and swingman Keith Langford, a slash-to-the-basket specialist who's climbing into the top 10 on the Jayhawks' career scoring chart, will be seniors.

BACK AT ALABAMA: Even as Alabama savors its deepest trip into the NCAA Tournament, the buzz is already beginning to mount about next season.

The only starter departing is point guard Antoine Pettway, still a big loss in leadership, energy and poise. Kennedy Winston, Earnest Shelton and Chuck Davis displayed star potential while freshman center Jermareo Davidson led in blocked shots.

Plus, an impressive recruiting class joins the mix led by Alabama's two-time Mr. Basketball, Ronald Steele, the expected successor to Pettway.

RATINGS UP 29 PERCENT: CBS Sports' telecasts of the first eight days of the NCAA Tournament are up 29 percent from last year. The national average is a 5.8 rating and a 13 share, up from 4.5 and 9.

[Last modified March 30, 2004, 01:35:43]


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